I look like any other customer in the coffee shop, except my jeans are fire engine red, my hoodie is lime green, and I’m wearing blue and orange platform sneakers. Not by design, just because. In a sea of suits and glumness, I’m a lighthouse of happy. Today. In this moment. Right now.
On those days when I don’t feel fractured and gray, I let my colors create a cushion between me and the Big Bad. Nobody needs to know that I live with schizophrenia, but if it comes up I’ll talk about it. Mental illness is a part of the fabric of life. It’s just dyed a different shade of dealing.
There will always be rough days, so I cherish the times when I’m doing well. I’m not sure how I know the difference—I just know what it’s like when it’s not scary. I have a foot in two realities, but I’m not carabining for survival. I’m just standing in line. Like a normal person.
I always go to the same cafe. The bakery goods sparkle and the coffee smells like earth. It’s enchanting and simple, another pillow between my expectations of an apprehensive public and the symptoms that betray me.
Familiarity and patterns keep me safe in the presence of sameness. In the rhythm of repetition, I create a space within me where I don’t shut down. Something happens. Something better than gray. I open up.
I ask the barista how their day is going. What for others is a simple gesture can be a major effort for me. If a thought disorder is a prison wall, then I’m determined to scale it. With conversation.
I comment on the weather, they compliment my clothes. I mention Bring Change 2 Mind, they share a story about depression. Schizophrenia comes up and we talk about it. They’re sympathetic and friendly, and in that moment unafraid. A connection is made because we both took a chance. I walk out of the shop feeling, to quote Dr. Mark Vonnegut, “Just like someone without a mental illness only more so.”
When I find myself struggling, I write my thoughts down so that I can discuss them in therapy. It helps having notes to refer to since I deal with a memory deficit. Talking about my disorder and how it affects my life is more important than what I think people think of me.
Before I started taking medication, I asked my doctor every question I could think of. I wanted to be sure it was safe. He helped me monitor its effectiveness. This has proven to be worthwhile; I’m more willing now to discuss different meds. I know there’s a path I need to follow, and I’ve learned that I don’t have to walk it alone.
Friends and families of people with schizophrenia can sometimes preempt a relapse by catching some of the red flags, like increased isolation or changes in sleeping patterns. Keeping track of previous symptoms might offer clues about what to watch for in the future. Maintaining a record of medications taken, how frequently, and at what dosage, is very important.
It might be helpful to have their doctor’s and therapist’s numbers on speed dial. To ensure the best course of treatment, be prepared. As people who care, you’re not alone—professionals are there to help. It’s teamwork.
Behaviors based on hallucinations, or statements stemming from unusual beliefs, might seem strange or off-putting to you, but to your loved one with schizophrenia it’s all very real. The trick is not to challenge the delusion. Instead, talk with them about things you have in common, topics of interest other than the one they’re fixated on. There’s no right or wrong here, just one person communicating in color to another who’s seeing in black and white. Remember—at the core of your relationship is love. You are their lighthouse in a tempest of fear.
It may be as hard for you as it for them to accept their diagnosis, but surrender affords you the necessary strength to discover hope and take action. Help them to establish a treatment plan that works. Otherwise, the basic need for human interaction might fall by the wayside, and stigma and discrimination could discourage them from a healthier, happier life. A life filled with color by design. Just because.
There will always be rough days. Cherish the times when your loved one is doing well. Mental illness is a part of the fabric of life, and gray is just another hue on the spectrum.